January in the Scottish Highlands – winds please go away!!

I’m settling in to my new Highland home and loving living in my dream location – I do still have to pinch myself sometimes as it does still feel a little like I must be on holiday and will have to return to Glasgow at some point soon! Opening my bedroom curtains and seeing Ben Wyvis (when it makes an appearance) and hearing the geese flying over and the garden birds chattering away to each other is a dream come true, I hope I never take it for granted.

As for photography, well, I’ve been out with my camera as often as the endless gale force winds, poor light and driving rain have allowed. After a stunning end to 2019 weather-wise when we enjoyed a number of frosty, crisp and clear days, January was, let’s say, challenging and so very frustrating, but I made the most of it when I could.

I’ve started to do some mountain hare guiding, both independently and for Black Isle Nature Photography, so I have spent a fair bit of time being blown about the hare hill. I’ve seen the poor animals in all sorts of weather this year already – sun, snow, rain, wind. I complain about conditions, but it must be especially tough for them. I’ve spent a bit of money enhancing my winter gear (sitting on the hill is FREEZING!!), which has helped a bit – I can heartily recommend down trousers and the Icebreaker “onesie” which make a bit of a difference. Still looking for the perfect pair of gloves though.

My first trip to the hill I found a hare fairly low down which was great as the weather wasn’t brilliant and the path up the hill snowy. It sat in a photogenic location with the nearby hills in the background partly covered in snow. The wind blew one if its ears up in the air!

Windy day!

I returned a few days later with the knowledge that I had to venture up to the top as I was guiding my first client later in the week. The snow was almost gone except for the odd patch, and suddenly after worrying that there were hardly any hares left on the hill I spotted quite a few which was such a relief. Good to know some have survived the hideous weather. No snow makes the hares very easy to pick out on the dark hillside.

I sat with three individuals, the final one treated me to a short groom.

Friday was my first mountain hare client, and although a little nervous, knowing that there were hares about and possible places to find them made me feel a whole lot better. Again, we sat with three individuals, although sadly none of them did a whole lot. One had great potential and we had a fab view of it sitting on the edge of one of the remaining patches of snow. However the moment Mark (the client) said it didn’t look like it would run, it did just that! Typical. It was Mark’s first time seeing the hares and he went away happy – who wouldn’t come away loving these amazing animals!

I was back on the hill a couple of days with James Roddie and his client. We started on the lower slopes as the weather was miserable and photographed this hare. As I mentioned earlier, it’s possible to get a lovely backdrop from this location.

Then we climbed the hill and sat with what was possibly the same hare as I’d had grooming a few days earlier. We were treated to a face-on groom, one of my favourite things as well as some lovely light!

I was back again on Tuesday because we had snow! Lots of snow. Fortunately Kev Morgans was up with a client and I accompanied them which was great as walking conditions were a tad tricky and it was easy to fall into ditches filled with thick snow. We spent most of our time with, I think, the same hare again, who is apparently Grouse. You may have read about him in social media posts from Kev or Andy Parkinson. He has a reputation for doing nothing. We did however get some behaviours. The most interesting of which was when he suddenly turned his back on us, we looked up and there was a golden eagle – how the hare could sense it at that distance I don’t know – probably why he’s been around for a few years! He suddenly dug a hole in the snow with his hind legs and completely disappeared down it, only to pop out again a couple of minutes later and resume doing very little. Incredible. We also watched as Grouse was covered in loose snow blowing off the hillside.

Fab day! Sadly the snow was gone almost as soon as it arrived, washed away by yet more heavy rain.

I did photograph a couple of other species in January, both at Black Isle Photography Hides sites where I helped out feeding the birds and beasties when James was unavailable, and taking advantage of this to spend some time photographing them.

Red squirrels proved challenging. Not their fault, but there was no light, or strong winds whenever I visited and they were rushing in, grabbing nuts and disappearing again. Always lovely to watch mind you.

The crested tits were more obliging, I do love these little birds. It’s a great, very natural site. The wind played havoc with their crests though!

A crestless tit!
The observant amongst you might have noticed that this is a one-legged crestie.

So that was January. Not the easiest month for photography, but I made the most of the time I had. I was also able to start decorating the kitchen and enjoyed visits from friends and family, so not all bad!

February brings more hare guiding days which is great, I love introducing people to my favourite animal. If you’d like to join me, please email karen@karenmillerphotography.co.uk and I’ll send you details. Hopefully the weather will improve, it’s very similar to January so far, wet and windy – but that does allow images like this … but I’m getting ahead of myself, more on this encounter in my next blog!

If you’d like to purchase prints of any of my images please visit my website https://www.karenmillerphotography.co.uk – if the image you’d like isn’t on there then drop me a note and I can add it. Thanks!

Highland based nature photographer and guide specialising primarily in Scottish wildlife but available to cover live music and events.

3 thoughts on “January in the Scottish Highlands – winds please go away!!

  1. You have many gorgeous photos there Karen. A very enjoyable read, thank you for sharing.
    I can only hope to get similar experiences- we’re up in the Cairngorms for the week and are very pleased to see the snow!


  2. Very much enjoyed reading through and admiring these gorgeous photos Karen. Can see that your move north has been totally worthwhile and looking forward to seeing more in the coming months. Have a feeling I should bite the bullet, wrap up warm and visit the hares sometime soon!


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